Getting Gatsby Parties Right: Part I

The Aristocrat

From NYPL’s “What’s on the Menu” project

In the novel The Great Gatsby there are only 5 references to solid food (among plenty of references to champagne and other alcohols). Since the release of the new film adaptation of the book, it seems that people everywhere, from Martha Stewart to literally everyone on Pinterest, are giving out tips for throwing a Great Gatsby party. While lining up a cocktail menu is a no-brainer, it is significantly more difficult to determine what food to serve, given the lack a food references in the book. To find out what the glitterati of West Egg would have been eating, I did some historical digging in the New York Public Library’s amazing online archive of historical menus. The library (with help from volunteers) is transcribing historical menus dating back to the 1850s–and there are plenty of menus from the 1920s to help us get a clearer picture of what Jay Gatsby may have been serving.

I looked at 6 menus in particular, basing my choices solely on which names sounded the poshest–and therefore may have been the kind of food Gatsby would have tried to emulate at his lavish parties: Hotel Astor, Yale Club, Mandarin, Hotel Chelsea, The Waldorf Astoria and The Aristicrat.

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Mmm, luxury

A few trends emerged looking through these menus from the early ‘20s. Four of the six restaurants offered celery as an appetizer. Which is weird. Also, a plate of celery cost $5 at the Yale Club and $2 at Hotel Astor, so Yale was clearly inflating their prices.

French dressing, Russian dressing and Mayonaise appeared as condiments on 5 menus, and on all 6 menus the proteins listed were also given names. Lobster Cardinal, Shrimp Newburg, Sweetbreads Montebello Style, Chicken Jeruselem, Chicken Maryland, Chicken Italienne, Chicken Raphael–if I didn’t know better I would think Bubba Gump wrote some of these menus. 

So, if you are planning to throw an historically accurate Great Gatsby party, be sure to serve some celery and Chicken (Insert Name Here) along with your champagne and gratuitous excess.

Check back next week for Part II of this post where I create my own version of Daisy Buchanan’s favorite dessert!

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